So, Dear Readers, while we sincerely hope that you may be in a virus-free land, able to welcome the new year with friends and family, we doubt that will be the case. If you are reading this blog, it is likely that you are genealogically minded, possibly have a French ancestor or two and give more than an occasional thought to how people lived long ago.
We offer up a pair of tales from our own family's mythology relevant to the current, so bizarre world situation. Our grandmother told a tale of her own mother, Margaret, when a child of thirteen in the tiny wilds of Nova Scotia, in about 1874. Diphtheria was raging. A neighbouring family were all sick with it, parents and children, so sick that they could not care for themselves. Margaret's mother sat with her to discuss offering help. "If I go there to help them, you will have to care for your younger brothers and sisters on your own." Margaret's father, a railway engineer, was away, but she felt that she could manage this. "Worse," her mother added, "I could bring the disease home to our own family. What do you think is the right thing to do?" Margaret, so the story goes, answered without hesitation "You must go and help them, for they would do the same for us." We venture that there is something to learn from our forebears about behaviour during an epidemic.
Our other grandmother told of celebrating the arrival of 1918 during a time of war and the great flu epidemic. (She became so accustomed to wearing a mask, by the way, that she continued to do so whenever she had a cold, not wishing to infect anyone, fifty years later.) In her apartment in Kansas City, she opened a bottle of champagne at the stroke of midnight and poured a glass. She did not dare to go out to join a crowd for fear of catching the flu but it was a bit lonely. Somewhat sardonically, she leant out her fourth floor window, raised her glass and shouted "Happy New Year!" to the city and sky. Below her, another person leaned out her window, a glass in hand, and shouted "And to you!" Other neighbours joined in until, looking down from her window, she saw a head leaning out of nearly every other window, all of them calling good wishes to the neighbours up and down the wall. One can find community, safely, more easily than one might believe.
Generally, in France, as elsewhere, New Year celebrations are a sort of psychological moulting. Wriggle out of, shrug off, rub away, discard the old and, with a sense of freedom and hope, welcome the new. Doing it with noise is particularly popular in France, with fireworks, drums and horns being among the favourite racket-makers. We like the drums. So, you might wish to put on a bit of the best, the Swiss-French Daniel Humair. Traditionally, many French do not say simply "Happy New Year" at the stroke of midnight, but "Bonne année et bonne santé", "Happy New Year and Good Health". How appropriate.
We shall be leaning out of our window, with Humair playing in the background, and raising a glass to you Dear Readers, wishing for you "Bonne année et bonne santé" in 2021.
©2020 Anne Morddel